This sermon is the first in a series on 1 Corinthians that will go until Transfiguration Sunday. Through this sermon series we will engage the questions: As a congregation: Who are we? What do we believe/ is important to us? How do we live out who we are and what we believe?
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace to you and peace
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
This greeting of Paul is very familiar to us,
I use a variation of it every Sunday to start my sermons
(and if you listen closely you’ll hear a mini preview of the sermon in the greeting),
and it’s a way to transition into sermon listening time.
since we use it so much
it is easy for the words to wash over us
without listening too closely.
But these words have more to say to us
so The next two months,
essentially until the beginning of Lent
we are going to spend our sermon time
with Paul and his first letter to the Corinthians,
we are going to pause
and savor these familiar words,
hear again the good news in them
and consider their meaning for us as a community.
Today we start at the beginning,
Paul always begins his letters
with grace, thanksgiving and context.
Grace because God has shown Paul
and the community of believers grace,
thanksgiving because God’s grace
is alive and active in Paul and the community,
because Paul has a point he’s trying to make in his letter
and that point is based on the identities
of the one writing the letter and those receiving the letter.
In the formulaic opening of the ancient letter
Paul reminds the community
who he is and who they are,
he is Paul a servant of Christ
working at the will of God,
they are the church of God that is in Corinth,
notice how he phrases that,
it is not the Corinthian Church,
it is God’s church that happens to be in Corinth
a small part of God’s larger church
found in every place
where people call on the name of Jesus Christ
who is the Lord of everyone!
How would it change your perspective of this congregation
if we regularly referred to it
as the church of God that is in Cass county,
or say I go to the church of God that is on highway 66?
It sounds a bit strange
because we’re so used to saying
my congregation is Christ Lutheran,
or I belong to Christ Lutheran
we know what we mean when we phrase it this way
but language and the way we talk about things matters
and the truth is that this is God’s church,
we belong to God
and we have been given the responsibility and privilege
of being stewards or care takers
of God’s church in this place
and all this is possible because of the grace of God.
The Corinthians had forgotten this truth
and Paul gently reminds them in the greeting,
but even as he reminds them
and prepares to take them to task
for some of their other actions in the rest of the letter,
he thanks God for them.
is not based on how much he likes this community
or how much he agrees with them,
in fact he profoundly disagrees with them,
and yet he gives thanks for them
because the grace of God is active in them
as it is active in him.
It has strengthened each for the service of God
and that is something for which to give thanks.
Maybe you’ve had this experience,
where you disagree with someone,
maybe you don’t even like them
and yet you cannot deny that the grace of God is active in them.
I had that experience a lot in seminary, I often told my friends that it was a good thing that I wasn’t in charge of everything because there were some people that absolutely drove me nuts, I profoundly disagreed with most of what they said I cringed when they spoke in class, some I just really didn’t like as people, and yet there were moments that reminded me that the grace of God was active in them, that they were able to do ministry in a way that I was not and it was all for the kingdom of God, thanks be to God.
Life in community is difficult,
but what makes it difficult,
the variety of personalities,
is also what makes community worthwhile.
Paul assures the Corinthians
that God will provide everything they need
and will strengthen them throughout the wait
for the return of Christ.
And he closes the introduction to his letter with a profound statement.
God is faithful; by him you were called into the partnership of his son Jesus Christ our Lord.
It’s an amazing statement.
God is faithful-
keeping all promises made
and God has call us to be partners in the work of Jesus Christ.
Little ol’ us who are anything but faithful.
It’s an astounding thought
that we are called to be partners with God
but that’s how God chooses to work,
Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, the prophets and judges- all partners with God.
John is a partner with God,
his testimony, his witness
is what brings Jesus his first followers
who become partners in their own right.
Did you notice that?
Jesus invites the two who approach him because of John
to stay with him,
to see for themselves what John has pointed to
and after a morning with Jesus,
one of the two, Andrew,
goes and finds his brother Simon
and brings him to Jesus.
The followers of Jesus grow
because Andrew works as a partner with Jesus.
God’s grace is active in him.
And here we’ve come full circle
to the joy, struggle, mystery even of being in God’s community,
that God is the actor, the author of grace
and God counts on us as partners
to make the kingdom of God happen,
to share the grace with others
so that they can share the grace with others.
It happened in our own lives,
someone brought us to Jesus,
often as a baby to the font
but other times as well
when they pointed to the lamb of God
and said look this is the way of life.
God’s grace was active in them
and it became active in us.
we struggle with this active grace
and the community it joins us to,
sometimes we ignore it,
sometimes we try to take ownership of it
all we can really do is live into it,
feel it work in our own lives,
share it with others
and give thanks to God for being in this place.
Thanks be to God Amen.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.